Your Incognito Mode search history will finally disappear

  • Google will delete the search history of its Incognito Mode users from December 2023 and before.
  • This includes billions of files and pieces of information related to user searches, losing Google an estimated $5 billion.
  • Google agreed to do this after it settled a class action lawsuit launched in 2020.

While Incognito Mode on Google Chrome deletes your search history from your device, the search data is sent directly to Google. In fact, your internet service provider (ISP) has access to it too. Yes, take a deep breath now and hope you haven’t looked up anything illegal using Incognito Mode recently.

Private browsing isn’t so private unless you use a browser made specifically so users can remain anonymous like TOR (and a VPN to boot), but for browsers like Chrome and Firefox and private browsing features like Incognito Mode, you really shouldn’t expect your search history to be anonymous.

This may change, however, following a class action settlement filed on Monday. The specific lawsuit is the Brown v. Google case, launched in 2020, and requires Google to provide more information on how the mega tech firm collects data from users that browse on Incognito Mode. It also makes requirements for Google to collect less data from Incognito Mode users in the future.

Google has settled the matter, and part of that settlement is agreeing to delete or make anonymous billions of search records from users who have browsed through Incognito Mode worldwide.

All data from December 2023 and earlier collected from private browsing users must be outright deleted, and any information that can’t be deleted must be de-identified, meaning that the company won’t be able to tell who specifically made the searches.

“This Settlement ensures real accountability and transparency from the world’s largest data collector and marks an important step toward improving and upholding our right to privacy on the Internet,” the five plaintiffs explained in the settlement filing.

Meanwhile, Google said in a statement seen by The Verge that it is giving the plaintiffs zero dollars. The win for the plaintiffs is then one that will benefit other users. However, they claim that the act of Google deleting the billions of Incognito Mode records will see the company miss out on at least $5 billion.

“We are happy to delete old technical data that was never associated with an individual and was never used for any form of personalization,” Google said of the settlement.

Google’s official position has long been that “Incognito” does not mean “Invisible” and that users who browse through Chrome’s private browsing will still be visible to the websites they visit, third-party analytics and ad services.

In 2021 Google attempted to get the case thrown out, but at the time a California judge said that the firm would have to face the music.

While the company must now delete data it collects from users on Incognito Mode, this still doesn’t mean that private browsing on regular browsers is actually private.

For the most private browsing experience, users should consider a combination of a VPN, a privacy-first browser like TOR and a private search engine like DuckDuckGo. However, you will end up sacrificing performance and quality-of-life features if you go down this route.

[Image – Photo by Call Me Fred on Unsplash]


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